The Best Way…

One thing I’m missing: smiles. I can’t see them – masks only reveal eyes. So I’m trying to see those, but I’ve noticed this: people are looking down a lot these days.

I’ve wondered about the missing smiles and the downcast eyes. Wondering how this is affecting not only us who are all grown-up, but what do the children see, feel? Children are the best readers of character, now their ability to ‘see’ someone has been covered up. That’s a bit scary. I’m not advocating mask/no mask – what I am advocating is humanity. We need to see each other. It’s how we know how each other feels. How can I stop and pray for someone whose hurting if I can’t tell if there’s a smile or a grimace hidden there?

Definition of humanity:  compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition. This new normal has definitely put a damper on those qualities. Yet, God, who never changes is all those things and He still sees us and knows how burdened this pandemic makes us feel. “The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.” (Psalm 145:9 NIV)

My grandson asked recently why the nature center he likes to visit is always closed. It’s hard to explain in three year old language. It’s hard to explain in any vernacular. The simplest way may be the hardest – man’s sinful hearts over the centuries have brought about disease and illness, and we are experiencing the outcome.

This is what I know: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)  For that reason, hope is ours. The hope? This is not all there is, there is a someday with no more sickness. Christ’s unchanging nature guarantees that in His presence we will never need a mask again.

In the meantime, I’m gonna try and see those eyes peering back at me. Try to look for the light of Jesus in them. And if I can’t perceive it, I’m gonna pray they will receive it.

It’s always been the best way – that’s why praying without ceasing isn’t a command, it’s a lifestyle. Here’s a favorite passage of Scripture, three precise ways to be in God’s will and live unmasked in our actions: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)

 

This Changes Everything…

I was wondering recently: how will we recognize people in eternity? Here’s the reason for my ponder  – a picture flashed through my mind of when I first see the face of Jesus. I could see Him look me in the eye and lightly brush my cheek, right where my newly acquired scar is. I knew in that instant flash of thought, that scar will be no more.

Someday we will not have all the wear and tear this earthly life has caused. And not just the outward wear and tear. The scars on our souls will also be no more. Who wouldn’t want this hope?

“This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out His love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.” (Romans 5:5 GNT)

Today I listened to a great illustration of the journey we make here on earth. We go day in day out usually looking to our own strength. But life has a way of showing us, now and then, that we don’t have what it takes to do this all on our own. In those times we tend to lift up our eyes and call for help. “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 NIV)

The Helper has been there all along, we just don’t ask. In the moment we do, He puts His arm around us and helps us limp along, showing us that He is the strength our weariness needs. Not more money, not more stuff, not more of anything that doesn’t last.

Here’s what we all need to grasp – the moment we accept Jesus, eternity begins. “You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God.” (Colossians 3:1 GNT) Notice the past tense: “raised”. Raised to life, eternal life. Trekking through our world here will still have it’s harsh realities. Hard things are not just for our refining, but to give us much hope to offer to others.

The kingdom, as spoken about by Jesus, isn’t a place. It’s His followers.  We are the pearl He gave everything for. And those who have gone before us will look different not just because we won’t be worn and torn, but because our spirit and soul, now united in eternal love, will shine in ways we couldn’t perceive here, but won’t be able to miss there.

This changes everything –  He indeed has made all things new. You, me – no mistaking Whose we are – and that’s our true identity.

Comparison…

Things aren’t always what they seem. Today south Florida is holding a collective breath wondering what the hurricane passing by tonight will be like. But to look out the window right now – sunshine, breeze – you’d never know heavy rain and big wind gusts will keep us shut in tight tonight.

It’s the same with people. We seem to value appearances so highly. Whether it’s physical appearance or ability (think models and sports figures) or fame, money, power (think celebrities, millionaires, politicians). But this is what God told Samuel a very long time ago, still true today: “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1Samuel 16:7b NIV)

Funny how children seem to intuitively know people’s hearts and don’t give a rip about their looks. I have grandchildren who don’t know that wrinkles aren’t attractive, they just think I’m fun and love to cuddle up in my lap or bury their head in my shoulder. It’s as old as time, but I wonder, why we do get so wrapped up in what is seen?

Pretty much stems from what all the shortcomings of our world can be attributed to: we are selfish by nature. We compare ourselves and feel like we deserve more. When worth is about what we have, about where we live or who we know, about anything in this world – we will always feel short-changed.

But when worth is found in our Creator, then we discover we have all we need and more. “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.” (1Timothy 6:17 CSB)

There is freedom in getting our focus off of comparison, off of self. We spend so much time pressuring ourselves to be a version of what advertising says we should be, of what equates “success” – no wonder stress is a universal mental and physical health detriment.

When we release worldly standards and pursue Jesus standards, He’ll always be enough for us, He’ll always make us enough for where we are. And we’ll know, without doubt, that there is so much more to live for than all the riches of this world.

 

 

 

Last Chance…

If today was you’re last one, would you do anything different? Would you surrender your heart to Jesus? Would you surrender your way to His? What would you do or not do?

We’ve heard this before. Boils down to living like the next minute isn’t guaranteed. That’s a tall order for us.

We get sidetracked so easily. We read things – or live things – that anger us and want to take matters into our own hands. We have it easy and forget our need for our Savior. We get all wrapped up in ourselves and forget we are wrapped in arms that hold us close. So maybe the question isn’t what would we do, but what can we do?

Joshua summed it up pretty well a few thousand years ago: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” (Joshua 24:15b BSB) That’s what we can do. It’s a moment by moment, day in day out, month by month thing – adding up to a lifetime.

It is, always has been: a choice. Joshua started by exhorting his listeners to ‘choose’. Choose whom you will serve – self or God? Simple – not easy, but simple.

Joshua had seen God’s faithfulness – Red Sea parted, enemies defeated, numerous miracles. Seeing is believing. If you belong to Jesus, then truth is it won’t take much for you to recount these same amazing miracles in your life. If you don’t know Christ, perhaps it’s time to let the blinders fall from you eyes and see how faithful He is.

Only one book has survived millennia unchanged. Only One who walked the earth still causes so much controversy. And only One is the truth – all other gods (things we live for, long for, fight for) are temporary.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT)

In this crazy time of riots, Covid, hate, politics, families divided – and all the other hurts and hurdles of our day, we need an anchor. To hold us steady, to keep us from drifting to never. There is a forever where no more tears exist. And there is a never – where eternity is spent never knowing the peace only God has secured. Someday our last chance will come. Time to choose.

 

 

 

Human…

What is it about us humans – or at least this human. Usually about the time I’m feeling I’ve gotten my life together in a way that honors Jesus, is about the time He shows me how far I have to go.

Sometimes it’s a gentle nudge (I like those) – other times it’s a back pain issue that takes me down for a week or longer. During that time I can’t keep up my usual busyness and so I think more. And I talk more to Jesus. And I see more clearly the facade of self.

Thank goodness for this: “It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1Peter 1:3b NLT)

Mercy. Needing a lot of that each day. But so does the hurting world around us. Oh for the boldness – and love – to tell of this great mercy. Now more than ever.

Covid has taught many of us a lot of things. Praying what it really teaches is that God loves us ALL. And has called us to love each other. The greatest sign of Christian love? Sharing this amazing news: someday there will not be pandemics. And some great day no more worries or cares. Just a forever better than anything we’ve known here. “Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” (1Peter 1:3c-4 NLT)

For now we have to endure things that we may not call blessings. Things like cancer, job loss, death. Yet there’s still signs of goodness. The gifts of a peachy dawn sky and cool end of day breeze. The precious gift of the Holy Spirit – never leaving us, right there in our trials. And His great gift of faith to our souls.

Faith is our anchor, keeping us from losing our way. And our faith is our protection no matter what comes our way. So whether I wake up to my back aching deep or I wander free through the yard enjoying the chasing of little boys, the power of salvation received at the cross is mine – and yours – all our days.

“And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” (1Peter 1:5 NLT)

These Are the Times…

Need a little calm? Certainly doesn’t come from anything online. Not in the daily news. Just a little peace, where?

We need some soul calming. Close at hand and never out of reach. Find it right here: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” (Luke 12:31 NLT)

Have you noticed even children/grandchildren seeming a little tense? They feel the tension in the very air around us these days. All earth is groaning from the weight of burdens we were not meant to carry.

There’s a bit of bad news, things here aren’t gonna change a whole lot for the better. Maybe, if the Lord relents once more, they will even out for a while. But we are on a trajectory set in motion in Eden. It’s just that the slippery slide is much faster than in the past. For the further away we turn from God, the harsher times will become.

Adversity is a tool in the Maker’s hand. Hearts seek when ease is absent. So to us is given much responsibility right now. Will we reach out to those desperately seeking answers? Only Jesus has those answers – and we’re His voice. “for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1John 4:4 ESV)

Sun-up to sun-down, now’s the time to teach little hearts much Jesus. Online or in line, now’s the time to speak boldly of the things of God. Eternities are at stake.

I’m no less fearful than you are about this task. These are scary times. Let’s pray for strength for each other, for a new boldness, for unexpected opportunities to touch others and be used in ways we have been uniquely made for. ‘For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But the righteous will live by faith. And if he shrinks back I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.’ (Hebrews 10:37-39 NIV)

These are the times – the ones we have sung about, ones we have prayed about, ones that we didn’t know would be so unsettling. But here we are. These are the times we were made for.

If We Will…

Half of this year is gone. A year called 2020 that cleverly was touted as 20/20 – as in vision. I think we were blind.

The year is a blur even though it is void of so many of life’s normals. It has been far fuller of of things we would rather not have known. Things like sickness and death, isolation and fear, destruction and lawlessness. Makes normal sound so long ago.

Yet, there is always good news even in the seemingly gloomy times. Always. Because God is good – all the time. Because this life is not all there is. And because hope is not just a catch-phrase used by politicians. It is a heartfelt word taught us by Jesus, and it is fuller than anything earth has to offer. “Because of all that the Son is, we have been given one blessing after another.” (John 1:16 CEV)

May not seem like the chaos of 2020 is one blessing after another. People have died. Jobs and businesses have disappeared. Many might say ‘if that’s one blessing after another, I’ll pass’. That view is near-sighted. Needs better lenses.

Here’s the view we need: not knowing if we have twenty seconds left or twenty years, when Christ is in our hearts, we do know that someday we will see clearly. “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see Him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.” (1Corinthians 13:12 CEV)

So whatever the last six months of this year hold – better days, more of the same, or much worse – we have work to do. Here’s real 20/20 vision: “Then if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,” (2Chronicles 7:14a NLT)

It’s a big ‘if’. Will we? Our arrogance from the beginning of time has led to this very day. But God is always slow to anger, full of compassion. He asks three little things: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8b NIV)

Sounds like those would cover just about any situation the rest of this year has in store. IF we will be humble, pray, seek God, turn from wickedness – then “I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (2Chronicles 7:14b NLT)

Watch, Stand, Be…Love

It’s hot and Saharan dust is swirling over many lands. Covid still abounds. Hate is marching in the streets. Do you, like me, find yourself sighing – a lot?

Man is not in control. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control pandemics. We can’t control the hearts of mankind. Yet the world each day wakes as though it can. With a big enough voice, control of the airwaves, enough money perpetrating actions – many think control can be grasped.

But that control is short-lived and then the next narrative comes along. Man fools itself. And until we surrender to God, who is in control, we will succumb to the next power grab and the next, endlessly. But there is hope: Jesus.

You might say, ‘Well if God is in control, why doesn’t He fix all this?’ Let’s go back to the beginning – choice. We were not created as robots. Everything that has happened for 6,000 years has been our doing. Fortunately, God does use all our messes for the good of those who love Him.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)

And nothing is a surprise or catches Him off-guard. Here’s where we are now, just as we were when Paul the Apostle wrote these words 2,000 years ago: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV)

There’s nothing new under the sun. There have been pandemics since we started devolving. There’s been social unrest since the first man used another for forced labor. There’s been destructive weather events since the flood.

So we keep our guard up, knowing the enemy of our souls doesn’t rest. We stand firm in the faith, trusting God. We summon up courage when we ask Jesus for His protection – no matter the outcome. We are strong, in our weakness, because we let Christ be our strength. Finally, when we do everything in love, we are shining a light and a hope which our world is in desperate need of.

Love doesn’t destroy a country – it helps it prosper. Love doesn’t hate a President – it prays for him. Love doesn’t cower in fear over disease – it nurses the sick and continues to go about life so that poverty doesn’t defeat it. That kind of love only can reign in a heart filled with the Holy Spirit.

Indestructible…

Doesn’t take long for toddlers (ages one and three you know who you are) to show how easily something can be…well let’s just say not how it looked prior to their curious hands.

Because I value the smiles and trust and love and fun of little boys more than I do things and a perfect house, we’ve become pretty kid-proof around here. There’s a few things that are no-no’s, but when they prove irresistible, I sigh and move on.

I’m thinking Jesus does that a lot with us. It was no surprise to God when Eve could not resist. Would it have been eternally better had she said no to self? Of course, but the great news is, God had a plan before Adam or Eve inhaled their first breath. An indestructible plan. “But God has shown us how much He loves us – it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8 GNT)

Sometimes we get bogged down in our failures, our shortcomings. Especially when we think we’ve moved on, won’t happen again, learned those lessons. Though we are short on grace for others, often for ourselves we have none.

Thankfully for us, only God’s grace matters. Speaking of our failures and shortcomings, Ruth Chou Simons put it this way: “They keep us tethered to the humbling reality that in order to receive the grace of God, we must begin by believing we are in desperate need of it.”

That’s just it: receiving it. Do we read our Bibles or listen to worship music or go to church and think the grace extended by Jesus is for everyone else? Either due our arrogance or our pity-party?

Don’t know about you, but yes, I am in desperate need of grace – sometimes moment to moment. (My judgmental thoughts, my quick assumptions.) Yet, even a whole day of ranting on about my grand ideas doesn’t change Christ’s eternal love and forgiveness for me – or you.

“One who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” (Hebrews 7:16 NIV) What was the role of a priest? (Notice we are talking past tense, before Jesus lived and died for us.) It was to spill the blood of a perfect lamb, beg forgiveness for his own sins, and then for that of the people. But that process had to be repeated over and over. For the priest and the people never stopped sinning.

So, we needed a Savior. A perfect life. One that would lay down His perfect life for ours – once and for all. Jesus left God’s side and did just that. Now earthly priests are no longer needed. We come before God and He sees Jesus in us and wraps us wondrously in His love. Indestructible!

Two Places…

Humans have inhabited two places: Eden and after Eden. Just a handful of millennia ago a man and a woman knew no shame, hurt, fear. They named animals, marveled at flowers and fruit, found newness at every turn. Even walked with God.

“The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8a NIV)

Little parched for that cool of the day innocence of so long ago aren’t we? The account in Genesis 3 finishes with the saddest line ever written: “and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8b NIV)

For at that time they had succumbed to the most cleverly crafted lie ever. The enemy assured them, when they hesitated to eat the only thing God forbid, that they were missing out: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5 NIV)

So they did and then they hid.

Why? A few verses later, in a history of mankind that was just dawning, the word hounding us ever since appeared, f-e-a-r.

Here’s the thing though, God did not abandon us. Though we had to abandon perfection, He pursued and still does. And truth is this: God does not inhabit fear or worry or anxiety – but the enemy does. He wants them to grow, engulf, and destroy us.

God inhabits the opposite: courage, confidence, and peace. He wants them to increase, surround, and revive us.

We have life examples of Jesus’ faithfulness. Both the Biblical accounts and those of so many generations of Christ followers. Every step trodden on this imperfect earth are steps of history. Not ours, God’s. Each person has one earth life to tell the Story. It’s glorious beginning, the heart-wrenching middle, and the amazing never ending. Once again, man will walk with God in the cool of day: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3b NIV)

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